Friday, May 12, 2006

Good and bad culture

Corruption makes the poor poorer. And corruption is linked to culture. To make it worse, the power of incentives does little to overcome the culture of corruption.

This is essentially what economist Raymond Fisman found (and reported in the May 22 Forbes). He looked at which diplomats in NYC pay traffic fines and which do not. Those that pay do so out of a sense of obligation because they enjoy diplomatic immunity. The researcher found that payments correlate with how the diplomat's home country ranks on an opinion survey of corrupt countries.

Finns, Danes, Norwegians and Swedes tend to pay. Diplomats from Chad and Bangladesh tend not to.

Fisman concludes: "Reformers of economic of social institutions must be aware that local values may undermine their efforts. Changing the law is helpful but not by itself sufficient to induce change in a compact world."

Little is understood about cultural change and evolution. Except that American culture (media, movies, fashion, food, music, schooling, etc.) are almost universally seductive. Good thing.